By Ashley Jacobs, Assistant County Administrator, Aiken County, SC
Question: We don’t hear enough about working in county government. From your perspective, what are three selling points of working for a county that we might not find working for a city?
In county government, you serve a broader population that’s both urban and rural. People who live in rural areas often don’t have access to goods, services, and personal and professional growth opportunities. They experience life in a county very differently from those who live in developed areas and do have access to resources such as high speed internet, fresh produce, business incubators, or workforce training. County employees are frequently involved in finding ways to remedy those voids, and it’s deeply rewarding to provide solutions.
We look at things from a regional perspective because you provide services with multi-county efforts. For example, our county library is actually part of a four-county system. We partner with neighboring counties on things like long range transportation planning, watershed planning and protection, and economic development. We see the world with a wide lens, far beyond the county boundaries, and we have a larger impact.
Everyone I know says that working in a county is harder than working in a city, so perhaps one of the selling points is that if you’ve worked in a county, you’ll have an easy transition if you move to city government. The issues are complicated because of the intersections with federal, state, regional, municipal, and special purpose agencies, and the breadth of services. You learn diplomacy and political astuteness from interacting with multiple elected officials who don’t answer to the CAO, and you become quite creative. You find ways to work with people and their agendas, and occasionally, you have to find ways to work around them. It’s always interesting to work with a Sheriff, because they’re usually the most politically powerful person in the county, and they can do pretty much anything they like. All of these relationships serve as a whetstone.